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Background top

The availability, condition, and adequacy of the physical facilities needed to conduct science and engineering (S&E) research at our nation's colleges and universities have long been a concern of policy makers, higher education administrators, and scientists and engineers. In particular, questions about the following critical issues have been raised:

Educators and policy makers have been particularly concerned about the quantity and quality of S&E research space at nondoctorate-granting institutions (those dedicated primarily to undergraduate education) and minority-serving institutions (those with relatively large percentages of minority students). These institutions contribute to the scientific enterprise by providing students with the science and engineering education necessary to pursue advanced education and training as well as research and teaching careers in science and engineering.

In the mid-1980s, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate held hearings at which experts testified about the seriousness of the condition of the nation's S&E research facilities. As a result, Congress mandated that the National Science Foundation (NSF) collect and analyze data that address a range of S&E research facilities issues. The mandate states:

The National Science Foundation is authorized to design, establish, and maintain a data collection and analysis capability in the Foundation for the purpose of identifying and assessing the research facilities needs of universities and colleges. The needs of universities by major field of science and engineering, for construction and modernization of research laboratories, including fixed equipment and major research equipment, shall be documented. University expenditures for the construction and modernization of research facilities, the sources of funds, and other appropriate data shall be collected and analyzed. The Foundation, in conjunction with other appropriate Federal agencies, shall report the results to Congress. The first report shall be submitted to Congress by September 1, 1986 (42 U.S.C. 1886).

On a biennial basis since 1986, NSF has collected data on S&E research facilities in the nation's research-performing colleges and universities. This overview presents the major findings from the 1998 survey and provides a summary of changes that have taken place between the 1988 and 1998 surveys. A brief description of the study's methods precedes a discussion of its major findings.

Survey Methods top

The 1998 Survey of Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities was mailed to a sample of 365 institutions in February 1998. This sample represents 660 colleges and universities that either had research and development (R&D) expenditures of $50,000 or more in 1993, or were minority-serving institutions that had any R&D expenditures in that year.[1] Of these 660 research-performing institutions, 57 percent were doctorate-granting and 43 percent were nondoctorate-granting. The doctorate-granting institutions consist of two groups: the 100 institutions with the largest R&D expenditures, referred to throughout the report as the "top 100"; and the other 278 institutions, which are referred to as "other doctorate-granting institutions."

In 1998, for the first time, respondents could complete the survey either electronically over the Internet [2] or by hand on paper. Institutions that participated in the 1996 survey were sent a computer-generated "facsimile" of their previous responses. Extensive telephone follow-up elicited a high response rate and reduced the number of items that respondents had initially omitted or responded to inconsistently. In all, 304, or 87 percent of all qualified sampled institutions, completed the survey, including all of the "top 100." Of these 304, 53 percent responded via the Internet and 47 percent completed the paper version of the survey. (See Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities: 1998, Appendix A, "Technical Notes," for a detailed description of the sampling procedures and data-collection methods.)

How Much S&E Research Space Do Colleges and Universities Have? top

In 1998, the nation's colleges and universities had 488 million net assignable square feet (NASF)[3] of academic space. Fifty-nine percent of this space, 286 million NASF, was dedicated to instruction and research in science and engineering. Half of this S&E space, 143 million NASF, was devoted specifically to research (Table 1).

Table 1. Amount of space by institution type: 1998

The nation's S&E research space was distributed across the three types of research-performing institutions as follows (Figure 1):

Figure 1. Amount of S&E research space by institution type: 1998

It should also be noted that while the top 100 institutions represent 15 percent of the total number of research-performing institutions, they accounted for 80 percent of all R&D expenditures in 1993. Thus, the proportion of S&E research space that they occupy, 71 percent, is roughly proportional to their share of total R&D expenditures.

Almost three quarters (72 percent or 103 million NASF) of the nation's S&E research space is concentrated in five fields (Table 2):

Table 2. Existing and needed S&E research space by field: 1998

Is the Amount of S&E Research Space Adequate for Current Research Commitments? top

In light of their current research commitments, at least half of all institutions reported inadequate amounts of space in every S&E field except mathematics, where 41 percent of the institutions indicated that the amount of research space was inadequate (Table 2). At least 60 percent of all research-performing institutions reported that their research space was inadequate in each of the following five S&E fields:

To meet their current research commitments, the research-performing institutions reported that they needed an additional 41 million NASF of S&E research space, or 29 percent more than they currently have. Three million or more NASF of research space were needed in each of the following six S&E fields (Table 2):

What is the Condition of the Nation's S&E Research Space? top

Over a third (39 percent or 56 million NASF) of S&E research space at research-performing institutions was rated as "suitable for the most scientifically sophisticated research." However, the research-performing institutions classified 18 percent (26 million NASF) of their research space as needing major renovation and another 5 percent (7 million NASF) as needing replacement. Thus, almost one quarter (23 percent) of all S&E research space requires either major renovation or replacement. Fields with the greatest amount of research space needing major renovation or replacement include:

How Much Construction and Repair/Renovation Has Been Deferred? top

In 1998, 55 percent of research-performing institutions reported that they had to defer needed S&E construction or repair/renovation projects that would support their current research program commitments because of insufficient funds. The vast majority of institutions that had deferred projects (87 percent) had included at least some of these projects in an approved institutional plan.

The total estimated cost for deferred S&E research construction and repair/ renovation projects (both in and not in an institutional plan) was $11.4 billion in 1998. Deferred construction projects accounted for $7 billion (61 percent) of these costs, while deferred repair/renovation projects accounted for the other $4.4 billion (39 percent).

Deferred construction costs exceeded $1 billion in each of three fields. Institutions reported deferred repair/renovation costs in excess of $500 million in the same three fields. These fields and the deferred costs are:

How Much S&E Construction and Repair/Renovation Did Institutions Start in 1996 and 1997? top

New construction projects begun in 1996 and 1997 are expected to produce 11.2 million NASF of new S&E research space. This space is the equivalent of about 8 percent of existing research space.[5] Similarly, new repair/renovation projects begun in 1996 and 1997 are expected to upgrade 15.1 million NASF, about 11 percent of existing research space.

In 1996 and 1997, institutions were less likely to start new construction projects than they were to start repair/renovation projects. Overall, one third of institutions (32 percent) started new S&E construction projects in 1996 and 1997 and over half (52 percent) started repair/renovation projects (Table 3).

Table 3. Construction and repair/renovation activity by S&E field: 1996 and 1997

Institutions were most likely to start construction projects in the following fields

Similarly, institutions were most likely to start repair/renovation projects that cost over $100,000 in the following fields:

How Much Are S&E Construction and Repair/Renovation Projects Expected to Cost? top

New construction projects begun in 1996 and 1997 are expected to cost $3.2 billion. Institutions reported an additional $7.0 billion of estimated deferred construction costs. Similarly, new repair/renovation projects begun in 1996 and 1997 are expected to cost $1.3 billion and estimated deferred repair/renovation costs totaled $4.4 billion (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Costs of construction and repair/renovation of S&E research facilities begun in 1996 and 1997

Four fields account for more than half (59 percent) of the $3.2 billion committed to the construction of new research space started in 1996 and 1997 (Table 3).

Five fields account for more than three quarters (76 percent) of the $1.3 billion committed to the repair/renovation of research space:

How are Colleges and Universities Funding S&E Capital Projects? top

Overall, the research-performing institutions derived their S&E capital projects funds from three major sources: the Federal government, state and local governments, and institutional resources. Institutional resources consist of private donations, institutional funds, tax-exempt bonds, other debt sources, and other sources (Table 4).

Table 4. Source of funds to construct and repair/renovate S&E research space: 1996 and 1997

Although more than twice as many dollars from each source were allocated to construction project expenses ($3.2 billion) than to repair/renovation project expenses ($1.3 billion), the funds from each source were used in similar proportions, regardless of the type of project. Institutional resources were the largest source of funds for both types of projects:

The relative distribution of the three sources of funds for S&E construction and repair/renovation projects differed between the public and private research-performing institutions. The relative distribution of construction funds between institution types is as follows (Figure 3):

Figure 3.

The relative distribution of repair/renovation funds between institution types is as follows (Figure 4):

Figure 4. Source of funds for repair/renovation of S&E research space by control on institution, 1996 and 1997

Special Types of Institutions top

S&E Research Space at Minority-Serving Institutions top

Since its inception, the Survey of Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities has included a sample of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These institutions have been recognized for their contributions to the education of Black students in general and for their role in preparing students for science and engineering careers. NSF has recognized the growth in minority enrollments in higher education overall and, thus, added two other types of minority-serving institutions to the 1998 sample. The inclusion of non-HBCU Black institutions acknowledges the fact that there are many colleges and universities that enroll large percentages of Black students but are not designated as HBCUs. Similarly, as Hispanic enrollments in higher education increase, there is a need to examine institutions serving these students. The group of minority-serving institutions varies in size and focus; it is composed of both nondoctorate and doctorate-granting institutions, and includes one of the top 100 research-performing institutions. Below is a summary of some of the key characteristics of minority-serving institutions:

Table 5. Source of funds to construct and repair/renovate S&E research space at minority-serving institutions: 1996 and 1997

S&E Research Space at Nondoctorate-Granting Institutions top

Many scientists and engineers receive their undergraduate training at institutions that do not award doctoral degrees. The visibility of these institutions has increased in recent years as policy makers recognize these institutions' contributions to the production not only of practicing scientists and engineers, but of technical workers and science and mathematics teachers for our nation's elementary and secondary schools. Below is a summary of some of the key characteristics of nondoctorate-granting institutions:

Table 6. Source of funds to construct and repair/renovate S&E research space at nondoctorate-granting institutions: 1996 and 1997

Animal Research Space top

The 83 percent of research-performing institutions that have animal laboratory facilities reported a total of 11.9 million NASF of animal research space. This represents 8 percent of all S&E research space.

The distribution of animal research space across types of institutions parallels the distribution of all S&E research space. In addition, the proportion of animal research space as a part of all S&E research space is roughly 8 percent at each type of institution:

Looking Back Over the Decade top

The 1998 Survey of Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities provides an opportunity to examine the status of the nation's S&E research facilities over a ten-year period.[7] While some aspects of facilities (e.g., the amount of space) have changed gradually and steadily over the decade, other aspects (e.g., construction and repair/renovation starts) have tended to fluctuate over this period.[8]

Amount of Research Space top

The amount of S&E research space in the nation's research-performing colleges and universities has grown continuously over the decade. In 1988, there were 112 million NASF of research space. Ten years later, there were 143 million NASF, a 28 percent increase. Doctorate-granting institutions account for most of the growth in actual S&E research space over this period (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Trends in amount of S&E research space by institution type: 1988-1998

Increases in the amount of S&E research space in the individual S&E fields were gradual and fairly even across fields.

The Condition of S&E Research Space top

In 1988, 24 percent of all research space was rated as "suitable for the most scientifically sophisticated research," whereas in 1998, 39 percent of all of research space was rated as being in this highest quality condition. The amount of research space reported to need major renovation or replacement to meet current research commitments also has increased continuously, from 16 percent to 23 percent over the past ten years. In 1988, 17.7 million NASF of all S&E research space required repair or renovation compared with 32.9 million NASF in 1998.

In this ten-year period, the amount of research space requiring renovation or replacement has increased in every S&E field. In nine out of the twelve fields, the amount of research space in this condition has nearly doubled over the decade (Figure 6).[9]

Figure 6. Amount of existing research S&E space needing major renovation or replacement by field: 1988 and 1998

New Construction and Repair/Renovation Projects top

The amount of new research space under construction and the amount of research space affected by repair/renovation projects have fluctuated over time. In 1996 and 1997, research-performing institutions began construction on 11.2 million NASF; in 1986 and 1987, construction was begun on 9.9 million NASF. The amount of S&E research space affected by new repair/renovation projects in 1996 and 1997 was 15.1 million NASF; the amount of research space repaired or renovated in 1986 and 1987 was 13.4 million NASF.

Overall, the proportion of institutions (32 percent) starting construction projects in 1996 and 1997 is consistent with the proportion (37 percent) that started construction projects ten years earlier, in 1986 and 1987. However, the proportion of institutions beginning new construction projects in three fields changed over the decade:

The proportion of institutions (52 percent) starting new repair/renovation projects in 1996 and 1997 was also similar to the proportion (56 percent) that started repair/renovation projects in 1986 and 1987. However, a change in the proportion of institutions beginning new repair/renovation projects over the decade occurred in four fields:

The Cost of Construction and Repair/Renovation Projects top

The total costs of new construction and repair/renovation projects have fluctuated over time. However, in 1996 and 1997, research-performing institutions committed 19 percent more funds (in inflation-adjusted dollars) for capital projects than they did a decade ago. In 1986 and 1987, they committed $2.7 billion to new construction projects compared with $3.2 billion in 1996 and 1997; and $1.1 billion to repair/renovation compared with $1.3 billion in 1996 and 1997[10] (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Trends in expenditures on S&E research space being constructed and repaired/renovated by institution type

Although the amount of funds committed to new construction projects costing over $100,000 has varied over time by field, construction expenditures approximately doubled or more in two fields:

The amount of funds committed to repair/renovation projects costing over $100,000 has also varied over time by field. The repair/renovation expenditures increased in four fields:

Sources of Funds top

Data on the different sources of funds committed to new construction and repair/renovation projects were first collected in 1990 and 1991. At that time, institutional resources provided 55 percent ($2.47 billion) of the $4.52 billion spent on the construction and repair/renovation of S&E research space. State and local governments provided 32 percent ($1.43 billion) of the total combined costs, and the Federal government funded 14 percent ($0.61 billion).

For 1996 and 1997, institutional resources accounted for 62 percent ($2.84 billion) of all S&E research space construction and repair/renovation costs ($4.55 billion). State and local governments provided 29 percent ($1.32 billion) and the Federal government funded 9 percent ($0.39 billion).


Footnotes

[1] Throughout this report, these 660 colleges and universities are referred to as "research-performing" institutions. Except where explicitly stated otherwise, the statistics presented in the report are for the weighted values of all institutions represented in the sample.

[2] In 1996, a Windows-based disk version of the survey was provided as an option.

[3] Net assignable square feet is defined as the sum of all areas, in square feet, on all floors of a building assigned to, or available to be assigned to, an occupant for specific use.

[4] Reported percentages of institutions include only those that had any research space in the field. For example, there were 127 institutions with biological science research space in medical schools (Table 2), of which 70 percent (89) reported having inadequate space. By comparison, 556 institutions reported having research space in the biological sciences outside of medical schools. Sixty-four percent of these institutions, or 356, indicated that the amount of space in this field was inadequate.

[5] Because some newly constructed S&E research space replaces existing space, the reader is cautioned against adding NASF under construction to existing NASF to obtain a total NASF once construction is completed. In addition, it should not be assumed that space being constructed is necessarily the same space that institutions report as needed in any given field in 1998.

[6] Percentages are reported only for those institutions that have space in a given S&E field.

[7] While the Survey of Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities has collected data on a number of the same issues over time, modifications to individual questions have occurred and new questions that address issues that arose between survey periods have been added. It should also be noted that the institutions sampled change over time, particularly for the other doctorate-granting and nondoctorate-granting groups. In addition, the classification of some institutions changed, e.g., institutions that did not grant doctorate degrees in one period did so at a later period. The sampling frame, however, has always reflected those institutions with R&D expenditures of $50,000 or more and, starting in 1992, Historically Black Colleges and Universities with any R&D expenditure.

[8] We limit our discussion to changes over time where the 1986-87 estimate falls outside the 1996-97 estimate's 95 percent confidence interval.

[9] Due to differences in the standard errors of each estimate, changes over time of the same magnitude may not have the same interpretation.

[10] All dollar figures are adjusted to 1997 levels using the U.S. Bureau of the Census' Composite Fixed Price Index for Construction.


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